Autoimmune disorders involving the connective tissue have complex pathogenetic origins and diverse clinical manifestations. Systemic sclerosis (or scleroderma) has the highest cause specific mortality of all of the connective tissue diseases, and the majority of patients with systemic sclerosis suffer from serious gastrointestinal tract symptoms. While the cause of gastrointestinal tract dysfunction in systemic sclerosis is unknown, Dr. Elizabeth Volkmann, a Rheumatologist at UCLA who specializes in the care of patients with systemic sclerosis, has recently teamed up with Dr. Jonathan Braun, Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, to discover whether patients with systemic sclerosis have alterations in their intestinal microbiota.
Current Research Projects
Working with a team of gastroenterologists at UCLA, which includes Dr. Bennett Roth, Dr. Terri Getzug and Dr. Jeffrey Conklin, the UCLA Scleroderma Microbiome Initiative, also seeks to determine whether certain microbial species contribute to the gastrointestinal phenotype in systemic sclerosis. Dr. Volkmann’s group has recently demonstrated that patients with systemic sclerosis have increased pathobiont (invasive, pro-inflammatory) microbial genera and decreased commensal (normal, healthy) microbial genera compared with healthy control patients. In addition, this group found that systemic sclerosis patients with lower levels of Bacteroides fragilis (a commensal bacterial species) had more severe gastrointestinal symptoms compared with patients with higher levels of this species. The UCLA Scleroderma Microbiome Initiative continues to explore the intricate interactions among the microbiome, metabolome, and proteome in systemic sclerosis, with the hopes of identifying novel therapeutic targets for this devastating autoimmune condition.
Unique Microbial Signature Identified in Systemic Sclerosis
Medscape (June 12, 2015)
First gut microbiota alterations described in systemic sclerosis patients
PM360 (June 11, 2015)